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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Hollands

Exams - What's in it for me??

Updated: Jan 15

So we are an exam school, we encourage all our students to take exams from Primary (year 2) upwards. But why do we think it’s important? Why do we hold them in high regard and what’s in it for the student and the parents?

Well, let’s start by looking at what is involved in the exam process.

Where do we start? Every class is based around syllabus work and working on the technique required to master the skills of the particular discipline. Each exercise is broken down, looking at the individual skills needed to perform the exercise.

So for example, in Acro, to be able to perform the bridge exercise, the student needs to have their hands and feet in the correct place, they need to understand their weight placement, whether their legs are straight or bent and they need to build up the strength to actually hold one!!

The series of exercises, in pretty much all dance styles, move through arms, feet, jumps, turns, floor work, traveling steps. For Tap, the exercises are a progression of different steps, tap springs, shuffles, heel drops etc.. so that they can be put together into sequences like time steps.

They also need to learn the theory of dance, understand terminology, demonstrate rhythm and how they are communicating to an audience through their movements.

How is this different for the Trinity and ABRSM syllabus for Singing, Acting and Musical Theatre??

Not too different really in terms of class work. The classes build the foundations for each level and the exam is how those foundations are applied in final set pieces. For example at level 1 Acting the student learns a monologue, they create their own mime based on a stimulus and then take their character from their monologue and create an original own scene. This takes a lot of creativity and imagination! For musical theatre they have to sing and dance at the same time, so we build from their Musical Theatre dance exams and apply their knowledge into these set pieces. This really tests their ability to be the Triple Threat!

In Singing, it’s not just singing songs! We examine our voices, the mechanics of how our instrument works with the rest of the body. We look at the composition of a song how it’s made up, rhythm, style, qualities. We also take the student through music theory, so they can read and interpret music. Our singing students take the Singing for Musical Theatre Performance exam, which is made up of 4 songs and then they must also pass their theory exams.

So how do we know when a student is ready for an exam?

At the end of the learning process, if the student has shown they have learnt the exercises fluently, has worked on corrections and has been genuinely practicing outside of the studio (and yes we can tell!), then they will be ready to demonstrate their knowledge. If, however, we feel they have been unable to sufficiently master the skills and exercises in the guided learning time, that will be assessed, then they will not be entered this time round.

If any students does not want to take an exam, then they will be asked to demonstrate the exam work in the studio, under exam conditions, for us to be able to move them onto the next grade.

We do have to programme in exams in advance and this is normally done at the beginning of term. We know how many teaching hours is required to prepare a students however, if closer to the time, there are signs your child isn't ready we may pull them from the session. The last thing you want is for your child to go into an exam not fully knowing what they are doing. This is where practice outside of class using the materials provided can really help support them.

So how do we prepare the students immediately leading up to an exam?

They will be given the music to practice the exercises, songs and theory questions.

For the 2 lessons before the exam they will do mock exams, so they know exactly what to expect on the day. We take them through how we expect them to behave before, during and after the exam. We invite you, the parents, in to watch! This is great for you as you get to see their hard work and good for them as they get to perform it in front someone else before the examiner.

What types of examination set up for we have?

We have 2 types:

  1. In-person exams, where a touring examiner comes to the studio and meets the students. This is normally for the dance examination as these examination groups are quite large, and we plan these sessions so we have enough students taking them.

  2. Video examination - mainly used for the smaller groups in ABRSM Singing, the Trinity syllabus in Acting and Musical Theatre. These are super convenient and can be taken as soon as a student is ready, but doesn’t quite have the same feel as an in-person exam. This doesn’t make it any less important or valuable however!

How scary is the in-person examiner??

Not scary at all! There used to be a stereotype that the ballet examiners were very serious and strict and whilst that did used to be true, now in our experience, the examiners are lovely and only want to see the students succeed. They always say hello and introduce themselves, smile and make the students feel comfortable.

So why should I do it? What are the Benefits?

With all this hard work in learning to a particular level, it seems silly not to be rewarded, right?! Why would you not want your time and dedication to your craft to be recognised, celebrated and championed, by not just your teacher but by someone outside the studio from the examination board. You are not being compared to or competing against anyone else, you are marked purely on your own achievements.

Examinations demonstrate self discipline, personal growth and so many more life skills that contribute their everyday lives.

When you reach certain grades they can obtain UCAS points to go towards university entry. Even if you are not going on to study dance or performing arts, it looks great on an application! Let’s face it, if you have a choice between 2 applicants of equal standing, but one has shown the aptitude to work on additional skills that are completely transferable and have the proof of that, it can only increase their chances of securing that place, right?!

So encourage your child, support their practice and then frame and hang that certificate with pride!

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